Skip to main content

Washington Update, February 20, 2024

Dear Colleagues:

In this week’s Washington Update we bring you updates on key legislative actions and initiatives impacting education and mental health support in schools. From significant bills addressing student loans to funding agreements for government spending bills, the landscape of education policy continues to evolve.

1. House Republicans Push Forward Student Loan Overhaul Bill Amid Partisan Divide

House Republicans advanced H.R. 6951, a comprehensive proposal aimed at overhauling student loans. The bill passed the House Education and Workforce Committee in a party-line vote of 22-19. Sponsored by Chair Virginia Foxx, the legislation directly opposes the Biden administration's student loan reforms, such as the "SAVE" repayment plan and debt cancellation initiatives. It's part of Chairwoman Foxx's strategy to reform the Higher Education Act through a series of bills. The proposal mandates colleges to disclose upfront program costs, institutes measures for institutions to contribute to unpaid loans from certain graduates.

2. Democrats Unveil 'Roadmap to College Student Success' Package in Response to Republican Reform Efforts

House Education and Workforce Democrats introduced a package of six bills known as the "Roadmap to College Student Success" aimed at reducing college costs and barriers for students. Led by Rep. Bobby Scott, the proposal includes measures to make two-year colleges tuition-free, extend Pell Grant eligibility, and reform student loan programs. This initiative serves as a Democratic response to Chair Virginia Foxx's "College Cost Reduction Act," which seeks to increase accountability and transparency in postsecondary education. Foxx's bill includes provisions such as penalizing colleges for students' unpaid loans and implementing flexible loan limits. The Roadmap consists of bills like the LOAN Act, aiming to double Pell Grants, and the College Transparency Act, aimed at better data reporting. The combined bills across parties highlights bipartisan concerns over college costs.

3. Senate and House Appropriators Reach Funding Totals Agreement for a Dozen Spending Bills

Top appropriators, Senate's Patty Murray and House's Kay Granger, have struck a deal on the funding totals for a dozen spending bills, marking a crucial step toward a broader government funding agreement before funds expire for multiple agencies within five weeks. The specifics of the 12 bills remain undisclosed, but this agreement allows policymakers to address finer policy and funding details for each bill. The deal follows intense negotiations and aligns with a funding framework proposed by Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Speaker Mike Johnson. With government funding for various sectors set to expire between March 1 and March 8, time is of the essence for finalizing an accord exceeding $1.7 trillion.

4. U.S. Department of Education Releases the 2024 National Educational Technology Plan; Addresses Digital Divides and Support for Students with Disabilities

The U.S. Department of Education has released the 2024 National Educational Technology Plan (NETP), titled "A Call to Action for Closing the Digital Access, Design, and Use Divides," which identifies three key obstacles hindering the transformative potential of educational technology: the Digital Use, Design, and Access Divides. This plan offers strategies for schools, districts, and states to leverage technology for improved learning experiences and outcomes, emphasizing redefining the Digital Use Divide to focus on enhancing students' utilization of technology for learning. Alongside the NETP, the Office of Educational Technology and the Office of Special Education Programs have issued guidance, titled "Myths and Facts Surrounding Assistive Technology Devices and Services," aimed at supporting children with disabilities who use assistive technology (AT) devices. The guidance dispels common misconceptions and outlines the requirements under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, Parts B and C. It is organized into five parts to address various aspects of assistive technology, including requirements, common myths, deployment, and funding sources. You can read the NETP here and the AT guidance and dear colleague letter from OSEP here.

5. Representatives Rosa DeLauro, Brian Fitzpatrick, and Jahana Hayes introduce the Expanding Access to Mental Health Services in Schools Act

Representatives Rosa DeLauro, Brian Fitzpatrick, and Jahana Hayes introduced the Expanding Access to Mental Health Services in Schools Act to address the pressing need for mental health support in educational settings. This legislation, building on the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act, aims to increase the presence of mental health professionals in schools by aiding high-need local educational agencies in recruiting, hiring, retaining, and diversifying such providers. The bill allocates $500 million over five years to enhance mental health services for students in elementary and secondary schools. Grant funds will support: (1) Employing mental health professionals to deliver services and implement evidence-based practices fostering positive school environments, (2) Attracting providers to underserved areas with incentives like salary supplements and student loan repayment, and (3) Retaining providers through professional development opportunities and support programs.

6. Inquiry Launched Into Biden Administration's Handling of FAFSA Rollout

A Congressional inquiry is underway into the Biden administration's handling of the new federal financial aid application (FAFSA), following repeated delays and criticism. Colleges warn of disruptions to admissions and financial aid timelines. Republicans accuse the Department of Education of mismanagement as officials cite a heavy workload without sufficient resources as a challenge.

Secretary of Education Dr. Miguel Cardona expressed his determination to improve the FAFSA process, acknowledging bipartisan criticism over the department's handling of the new application. Senate Republicans launched a webpage for families to report issues with the form. Colleges also voiced frustration with delays, leading some to extend enrollment deadlines. The Education Department plans to allocate $50 million to aid nonprofits in supporting colleges with technical assistance. The Educational Credit Management Corporation will administer the fund, with decisions on funding allocation left to them. Additionally, federal financial aid experts will assist colleges in processing aid packages, with 50 staff members dedicated to on-campus support. Cardona mentioned appointing a new individual to aid schools but did not specify.

7. Department of Education Issues Requests for Information

• ED: Docket ID ED—2023—OPE—0205: The U.S. Department of Education (Department) is requesting information in the form of written comments that may include information, research, and suggestions regarding supporting student mental health and/or substance use disorder (behavioral health) needs in higher education. The Office of Postsecondary Education solicits these comments: to identify examples of what has been effective in addressing college student mental health and substance use disorder needs; to learn how institutions of higher education (IHEs) have transformed their campus cultures and created campus-wide, inclusive strategies to provide support; to identify how State higher education agencies have supported college behavioral health; to better understand potential challenges institutions are facing in the design and implementation of solutions; and, ultimately, to inform future work from the Department.

o DATE: We must receive your comments on or before February 25, 2024.

• ED: Docket ID ED-2024-OPE-0002: The Department of Education (Department) proposes priorities, requirements, and definition for use in the Augustus F. Hawkins Centers of Excellence (Hawkins) Program, Assistance Listing Number 84.428A. The Department may use one or more of these priorities, requirements, and definition for competitions in fiscal year (FY) 2024 and later years. We intend for these priorities, requirements, and definition to help increase the number of, and retain, well-prepared teachers from diverse backgrounds, resulting in a more diverse teacher workforce prepared to teach in our Nation's underserved elementary and secondary schools and close student opportunity and achievement gaps.

o DATE: We must receive your comments on or before March 4, 2024.

• ED: Docket ID ED–2023–OPE–0207: This notice is a request for information in the form of written comments that include information, research, and suggestions regarding the prevention and response to sexual violence on campuses of educational institutions (all levels).

o DATE: We must receive your comments by March 11, 2024.

• DOL: Docket ID: RIN 1205–AC13ID: The Department of Labor (DOL or the Department) is proposing issuing this notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM or proposed rule) to revise the regulations for registered apprenticeship by enhancing worker protections and equity, improving the quality of registered apprenticeship programs, revising the State governance provisions, and more clearly establishing critical pipelines to registered apprenticeship programs, such as registered career and technical education (CTE) apprenticeships. The proposed rule would improve the capacity of the National Apprenticeship System to respond to evolving employer needs, provide workers equitable pathways to good jobs, and increase the system's long-term resilience.

o DATE: DOL must receive comments by March 18, 2024

8. IES Releases New Blog Series Highlighting OSEP Scholars

In a new blog series from IES, doctoral students who participate in both OSEP and IES funding opportunities share their stories to help the field better understand the unique contributions of each and how the two funding sources complement one another. Doctoral students were asked to tell about their experience as an OSEP Scholar, their work on IES-funded grants, the synergy between their OSEP supports and NCSER grant work, and how they believe these experiences will help them achieve their career goals. You can read the blog posts here.

Congress and Washington Update are on recess, returning March 1st.

Until next time, see you on X! (formerly Twitter)



Posted:  20 February, 2024
dr kaitlyn brennan
Author: Dr. Kaitlyn Brennan

Dr. Kaitlyn Brennan serves as education policy advisor to TED, providing strategic support to activate TED members in support of federal policy which best meets the needs of students with disabilities...

Read more from Dr. Kaitlyn Brennan

© 2023 Council for Exceptional Children (CEC). All rights reserved.